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Swinging a walking line

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by BassplayerBrian, Sep 6, 2008.

  1. BassplayerBrian


    Apr 23, 2008
    Hey guys, I know it's probably been asked before, and I have been searching for it for about an hour now, but how exactly do you swing a walking line? When I play I generally try and follow the rule of thumb that all my notes should run into each other, and I dig in a lot...
    But today in an audition, the guy listening said I played great time and great notes, but the only thing is that I need to swing more, what can I do to fix that issue?

    Thanks for the help guys :cool:
  2. PocketGroove82


    Oct 18, 2006
    Hey Brian,
    I would recommend listening to the great jazz bass players and emulating their swing. Most of us modern guys are happy to have modern recording/amplifying technology and all the sustain it affords us, but when you listen to the old guys bouncing along it's obvious that note length is crucial in creating a great swing feel, and their quarter notes do not take up the whole beat. If I could describe it in words, I would gladly do it but it just can't be accurately conveyed with words. One teacher I had tried to explain it as the quarter note takes up the first 2 eight notes in an eight note triplet, but I don't feel that is a just approximation.

  3. BassplayerBrian


    Apr 23, 2008
    Thanks man I'll give that a shot! I've been playing jazz for awhile but I've only just developed a HUGE taste for it and now I can't get enough of it! And after today, I realized, maybe I don't know anything about walking at all, and so I figured I'd turn to you guys!
  4. StyleOverShow

    StyleOverShow Still Playing After All These Years Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2008
    Hillsdale, Portland
    PocketGrove82 is on to it. A shuffle could be defined as a series of dotted quarter/eight notes, but the feel is what makes it.

    Work on the nuances of timing with a metronome. Practice playing walks on the front side (ahead of the beat) and on the back side (behind the beat).

    Tonewise, use half steps in tighter pattern between strings ascending and descending to the root. Have some fun.
  5. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    I would also say "swing" is a looseness in the timing. I do not mean sloppy timing! But rather a limber, relaxed, expressive interpretation of the timing. It's like vocal phrasing, but on a note-by-note level. At least that's how I hear it.
  6. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    I kind of disagree with all that. The quarter note isn't some version of an eighth note. first of all, I would stop thinking of swing as some version of a shuffle, don't think ANY kind of rhythmic description, think FORWARD MOTION. You want to keep the music moving forward by moving the harmonic progression forward. Each note has to give you sense of moving forward in a compelling way to the next note, all the while maintaining a sense of the ultimate arc of your line. Ultimately it's an aural response to your aural environment. you have to REALLY HEAR the changes, HEAR your line as a part of that conversation.

    when i play, all I'm really trying to do is put the note I'm hearing right in the center of the beat. I want to line up my attack with the attack of the drummer's stick on the ride cymbal. And that's a great exercise; get together with the drummer and walk through some standards (or things from the repertoire of the group you're working with) and have him just play quarter notes on the ride cymbal. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ELSE, just him playing quarters on the ride and you playing quarters through the harmony of the piece. If you really have the harmony in your ear, you very quickly start hearing whether or not your line is defining the chords , whether or not it's nailing the harmony down or pushing it forward. A useful metaphor my teacher came up with was dribbling a basketball. you want to get the sense of the rebound up: you're not trying to drive the ball into the ground.

    I know a lot of cats say that "it's not the notes, it's the rhythm", but to me that's just not true. when you have just the quarter note, the line you hear as the "quarter note melody" is what keeps the music moving or nails it down dead.
  7. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    +1. This is a great exercise. I've done this (or something like it) with a few drummers. It can be tedious but so important and effective.

    I also agree with Ed that swing is not some subdivision of the eighth note or something. Some books like to explain it that way because it is one of the only ways to quantify swing in a mathematical way. I attest that the best way is to listen to some of the great rhythm sections and listen to how they lock up. My favorite to start my students on is Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Cobb, Paul Chambers. Talk about swing...
  8. funkifiedsoul

    funkifiedsoul Supporting Member

    Mar 22, 2007
    "The description is not the described" and I'm afraid books and words are of little help for this one.
    Keep listening (and singing) till it gets into your blood.
  9. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    The thing is, if "locking in" perfectly with the drummer was the only criteria, then a drum machine and a programmed bass line would swing like mad! Right? ;) I know you guys didn't mean it in that reductionist sense, but I had to mention it because saying "locking in" as a definition is just as potentially misleading as saying it's a specific rhythmic variation. I dig what Ed said about thinking of the note progression as a source of swing, but again that can't be the only defining factor- after all, I've heard drum solos that swing.

    Not trying to be argumentative here, I'm certainly no expert myself, just encouraging further discussion. :)
  10. funkifiedsoul

    funkifiedsoul Supporting Member

    Mar 22, 2007
  11. Thunderthumbs73


    May 5, 2008
    I'm sure lots of people will recommend lots of good things. I recommend spending some time with a good jazz drummer and working on the feel of walking bass lines, and to be solid on the rhythms at all tempos.
  12. Listen to a lot of stuff that swings, Ray Brown, Jimmy Smith, Mingus, Jimmy Garrison w/Elvin Jones, some of Monk's rhythm sections (early-mid '60's band), and clap along, snap your fingers, sing along with the bass, play along.

    Ed, what do you do when the drummer's not playing down the middle?

    I agree with what you're saying about the notes and harmonic motion, but I think the notion of "swing" is a feel. If it wasn't, a ride cymbal all by itself wouldn't swing, but it know it can. It's possible to swing one repeated note. So while what you wrote is true, I don't think it should confused with swing as a feel, which is what I think the OP was asking about.

    Here's another thought: If "swing" was all about moving the harmonic progession forward, jazz with static harmonies wouldn't swing.
  13. Great discussion. Every one has certainly contributed to the conversation and +2 regarding Ed Fuqua's thoughts.

    Unfortunately it is almost impossible to describe in words something that is such an aural experience. If you Listen & study the masters, (some who have been mentioned), practice with a good jazz drummer (keeping in mind Chet Bakers quote) and maybe try recording yourself often in order to hear how you are progressing. Audio don't lie. It's the best way to truly hear what you sound like; if your rushing or dragging the time, how accurate your intonation is and of course your overall note choices and the contour of your lines. Phew! Relax & have fun. Remember music is a journey not the destination! God I hope this doesn't sound New Age or something:ninja::ninja:
  14. PocketGroove82


    Oct 18, 2006
    One of my groups just wasn't swinging, so we went around the room and everyone played 8 quarter notes, then the next person continued on in a circular fashion. It was eye opening to see how each person had a slightly different interpretation/placement of the beat, and it really exposed the root of the group problem. Like others have said getting tight with your drummer's ride can instantly improve the swing. But, like others have implied, if your drummer sucks then you're fighting a losing battle.
  15. Work on being able to hear where the beat is without anyone having to actually play it, drummers don't always play time. Listen for other hints. It's important for the rhythm section to have a good hook-up, but whoever is playing the melody (the head or solo) can play where ever he wants in relation to the beat. Great soloists will even move around to create different feels with in their own solo, or within a line. They can create tension and resolve it in the feel, a component beyond harmonic tension and release.
  16. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    It's cool if everyone has different conception of the quarter note as long as they are flexible enough to compromise with the other folks on stage.

    If it ain't swingin' it ain't swingin'. I played a gig a few weeks back with a guy that is a smokin' fusion drummer. He can Dennis Chambers stuff all over the place. Can't swing four quarter notes though.
  17. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Swing is an emotion. There is a difference between swung quarter notes and regular quarter notes. It's like quarter notes in a groove... extremely hard to describe. It's more than just playing time. I think there's a difference between banging out time and swinging a quarter note line.

    I would start by listening to the old Count Basie Bassists: Walter Page, and Eddie Jones most notably. I've read some stuff on their playing and they mention something that when the dynamics come down and they play softer, it swings even harder.

    I'd also work with a metronome with the clicks only on the 2 & 4 and walk like you "own" it. If you can make a metronome swing, I think you're on your way. The slower the better.
  18. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    What is this thing
    This crazy "swing"
    That makes bass zing
    And trumpets sting?

    More than a note
    Sometimes a quote
    Not quite a rhythm
    (What rhymes with "rhythm"?)

    For lines to move
    And find the groove
    You shall not rue
    To always do
    Like Mr. Few!

    Don't flee it
    Just be it
    And like Justice Stewart
    You'll "know it when you see it."
  19. BassplayerBrian


    Apr 23, 2008
    Wow... lots of great contributions to this thread, I'm really diggin it, thanks guys! If there's more keep it coming I want to learn everything I can about this subject!
  20. Grooove


    Apr 12, 2008
    For any groove - if it is swing or whatever - 'Microtiming' is the magic word... To have the smallest rhythmical sequences in mind when you play a groove - just like a great drummer´s work on his HiHat or ride cymbal...

    In Swing these sequences are eighth-triplets. If you play a quarter note and you think in straight eights it will definitely sounds different than when you think in eighths-triplets! Music starts in the mind first - if the swing isn't there it won't come out of the instrument.

    Maybe it helps you to get the 'swing' if you do a lot of triplet exercises - what I warmly recommend and what my students successfully are doing. You can do these exercises just with a metronome. Play that eighths-triplets in all possible variations - which includes the rests of course...

    As a bassist one should be able to create swing/groove just by him/herself - without the support of any other instrument - and that will come if you have that Microtiming... :D

    Good luck, :)


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